Taiwan DPP Mission in the U.S.
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For Immediate Release

Open Letter from DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim

I am writing to share with you some updates on the situation in Taiwan, my home country. Taiwan is currently at a critical juncture of democratic development, which requires greater international attention.

On March 18, hundreds of students from various universities in Taiwan entered the chamber of the Legislative Yuan, the Parliament of Taiwan, in protest of the government’s disregard of the public demand that democratic procedures of legislative scrutiny and approval must be followed over a trade agreement it recently signed with China. A couple hundred students have continued to occupy the chamber for days, while thousands more students have persistently gathered outside, around the legislature. On March 23, some agitated students, frustrated by the government’s refusal to dialogue, entered the cabinet offices, but later in the evening were removed by riot police demonstrating a degree of state violence not seen in Taiwan since Martial Law. In the meantime, dozens of university professors have echoed their support for the students by bringing their classes over to the rally site for outdoor lectures on democracy, civil rights, and China relations. Polls illustrate that the majority of the Taiwanese public are sympathetic to the actions of the students, and a tremendous amount of public support has been demonstrated.

While economic stagnation, the growing wealth disparity, falling wages and skyrocketing housing costs in Taiwan have been fueling social tension and discontent in the country, the catalyst for the student action was the KMT party’s attempt to force the trade agreement through the legislative committee without any review. The trade agreement, which opens the service sector in Taiwan to Chinese investment and allows Chinese nationals to live and work in Taiwan, has been extremely controversial. There were no prior consultations with the various affected industry sectors before the agreement was signed. The parliament was neither briefed nor informed in advance, and the government even attempted to implement the agreement without parliamentary ratification. It was only after protests by the legislature that enabled an inter-party deal that promised to hold public hearings, followed by review and vote clause-by-clause, item-by-item, in the parliament.

Aside from the lack of transparency and the government’s disregard for democratic procedures, critics are worried that the agreement would open the door to greater Chinese economic and social influence in Taiwan. Furthermore, experts have pointed out that a number of the clauses in the agreement are not fully equal and fair. For example, for the e-commerce sector, Taiwan opens up the entire market to China, while the Chinese side has designated only the province of Fukien as a permitted base of operation for Taiwanese companies. On March 17, in violation of the previous inter-party deal for detailed scrutiny of the agreement in the legislative committee, the KMT co-chair of the committee made a thirty-second announcement that the trade agreement was passed already. This blatant disregard of democratic procedures over an agreement which would have a significant impact on Taiwan’s society and future relations with China, has infuriated not only students and relevant industry sectors, but the greater public in Taiwan.

Since the student occupation, President Ma has refused to dialogue and respond to the questions and concerns they have raised. Students are distressed that Ma and his government are apparently more eager to dialogue with China, a country which threatens Taiwan’s democratic existence with missiles and military force, yet unwilling to come face to face with the peaceful and patriotic students. The use of excessive violence by riot police on the unarmed, peaceful demonstrators at the Executive Yuan (cabinet offices), has also further enflamed the upset students.

We believe the future of Taiwan’s democracy is at stake, with an arrogant government refusing to dialogue with its society, instead willing to use force and lies to suppress the peaceful aspirations of the people. The future of Taiwan’s survival is also at stake, with a president eager to do whatever it takes to bring Taiwan closer to China.

Taiwan’s prosperity was built on the hard work of the Taiwanese people. The diligent and peace-loving people of Taiwan are willing to engage with China socially and economically, but only on dignified and fair terms. Any agreement with China that would have significant social, economic, and national security costs on the Taiwanese people, must be scrutinized and reviewed with much detail, not forcefully implemented.

Taiwan’s democracy was hard-won, by many courageous people who were willing to sacrifice their lives and freedom to break the confines of Martial Law and one-party dictatorship decades ago. We do not want to see a backward slide in Taiwan’s free and democratic way of living, and we appeal to you to support us in safeguarding Taiwan’s democracy.

I urge friends of the international community to extend your support to the students and express concern for the status Taiwan’s democracy and survival.

Thank you for your attention.

This material is distributed by the Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party Mission in the U.S. on behalf of the Democratic Progressive Party, Taiwan.
Additional information is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.